A Body of Water in the Mind of a Machine
The year is 2019. A baptism is about to occur. A girl is about to experience a key rite of passage in the Christian religion for the very first time.
Surrounded by her friends, her pastor recites passages from the bible and tells her of the newness she will embody once she secures her faith and emerges from the water.
Only that this is all actually happening from inside of a VR Church, inside of a VR world, and Pastor D.J. Soto and his followers are all attending this baptism from the comfort of their own homes. The girl about to be baptised is in fact, a man, a user of an avatar in the VR world only going by the name of Drumsy. There are no material bodies present for this baptism, and no body of water as far as we can touch it. But for Pastor Soto, being submerged in this mere interpretation of water is just as profound as any baptism outside of the digital and VR. Drumsy is to him, effectively immersed in the divine and religiously re-conceived as a Christian, despite the absense of a physically tanglible world.
For centuries, water has provided a material awakening symbolic of purification from the outside in, and thus from the inside out as well. It facilitates a sort of renewing and washing away. Water in baptisms serve as a medium to form impressions on the interior and exterior, leaving traces of one’s past self behind, while emerging in the future renewed – as “reborn”.
These symbolic representations involving the material uses of water help develop our understanding of practices like baptisms as a function that redefines what the border between the interior and exterior signifies, and how and when we decide to leave one or the other behind. But if this material “life” as embodied in water is stripped of it’s nutritional, mineral, and tactile properties, can the intention of water still wash away the sins of the damned? Perhaps.
In the case of Drumsy’s baptism, if we can surmise that the participants attending do not at all perceive themselves as limited by an internal and external materiality or physicality, then the understanding of water as fixed in its form can very quickly be turned on its edge as well. If something as materially bound; as ancient and rigid; as spiritual and political as a baptism can be reimagined within technological interpretation, what then can it mean for the rest of us in time to come?
Utilising technology, playing with it, immersing ourselves in it, have for a while now, served as portals for us to imagine the infinitely radical ways for which we conceive of the material and immaterial, of the divine, and of our undermining presence in the world. It is also between these binaries that we unwittingly find ourselves in the wilderness, often trapped between atoms and networks, with screens as reality and reality as real as the water of a VR baptism.
Of what we might discover in this very water then, or the idea of it, is perhaps a new meaning to our future; a future where a drop of it could send a ripple that could then expand to occupy the entire universe; a universe where if we wanted, we could certainly shape it to be more than it is today.
YouTube. (2019). Real Pastor In Virtual Reality Baptizes An Anime Girl. [online]
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_88DBmdnNA [Accessed 22 Sep. 2019]. Nast, C. (2019). This Pastor Is Putting His Faith in a Virtual Reality Church. [online] Wired.Available
at: https://www.wired.com/story/virtual-reality-church/ [Accessed 22 Sep. 2019]. Technology.inquirer.net. (2019). Pastor quits job to create radically-inclusive virtual reality church. [online]
Available at: https://technology.inquirer.net/72538/pastor-quits-job-to-create-radically-inclusive-virtual-reality-church [Accessed 22 Sep. 2019].
This text was the Editor’s note for the Pure Ever Publication 2019. Re-edited in 2021.
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